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7 Animals That Change Color Better Than Chameleons

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Chameleons are often described as the “quick-change artists” of the animal kingdom, rapidly altering the shade of their skins to blend into their environment. But contrary to popular opinion, these tree-dwelling lizards are actually rather poor color-changers, as you can see in the clip below, which features a Madagascarian panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis):

While the creature's hue does change noticeably, the process takes several minutes and the eye-catching striped pattern on its sides remains intact—hardly the features of good camouflage. Furthermore, odds are that when you do see a chameleon change its color, it's probably trying to broadcast its mood rather than evade predators.

Nevertheless, the animal kingdom is filled with amazing color-changers, several of which dramatically outdo the chameleon clan in the skill of rapid-fire camouflage.

1. The Cuttlefish (Order: Sepiida)

Despite their cute-sounding name, these eccentric critters are actually cephalopods (the first of several you'll see on this list). Like many residents of their food chain, cuttlefish have to regularly switch between playing the roles of crafty predator and elusive prey. A group of specialized sacs which receive color-changing instructions directly from their brains help them to both grab a quick meal and avoid becoming one themselves.

2. The Peacock Flounder (Bothus mancus)

These flat fish are deadly predators thanks in part to a series of hormones that send pigment-modifying signals to their skin cells, which take effect within seconds. However, as you can see in the video below, their disguises aren't always perfect.

3. Various Squid Species

Several types of squid throughout the globe are capable of breathtaking color changes, such as this captive specimen filmed in a Turkish aquarium:

Recently, it was discovered that the series of pigment cells which control the color of these tentacled hunters could be synthetically manipulated by man-made electrical charges, as seen in the magnificent footage below:

4. Various Spider Species

A wide variety of eight-legged arachnids use camouflage to stalk their unsuspecting prey, including the bee-slaying white crab spider:

But amidst the 43,000 species known to science, a handful have even been known to engage in sudden spats of color-change. Among these are the genera Chrysso and Cryptophora, both of which hail from Australia.

5. The Cyanea Octopus (Octopus cyanea)

Using the same hue-shifting mechanism as its tentacled brethren, this inhabitant of the Indian and Pacific Oceans ups the ante by transforming the texture of its skin to match that of whatever it clings to.

6. The Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

Like a scene from John Carpenter's The Thing, these enigmatic octopuses take color change a step further still by not only revamping their pattern on a dime, but changing the very shape of their bodies to imitate a sea snake, lion fish, or piece of floating coral—to name but a few deep sea impressions the mimic octopus can convincingly pull off.

7. Golden Tortoise Beetle (Genus: Charidotella)

Sometimes, romance is reason enough to inspire a change in hue. According to some entomologists, the golden tortoise beetle of eastern North America turns scarlet while copulating. Interestingly, they'll also do this to scare off predators when threatened: The bright red display makes many predators believe that the beetles are poisonous and that they should look elsewhere for sustenance.

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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